Why is the Icelandic language more linguistically conservative than other Germanic languages?

Our guesses:

  • Language change is quicker in places where there are a lot of people, lots of social difference, and a lot of traffic. Lots of people generate more random linguistic variation; lots of social difference generates more deliberate linguistic variation; lots of traffic helps idiosyncratic distinctions that one person comes up with propagate.
  • Iceland had none of these. It is relatively isolated, small, and homogeneous.
  • Iceland has had near universal literacy for a millennium. Literacy is known to be a powerfully conservative force in language change: it keeps centuries-old speech (and notions of speech) in circulation.
  • Icelanders are prescriptive about keeping the language stable, so they collude with the conservative force of literacy. The most renowned instance of this among linguists is flamæli: Icelandic (language): What is flámæli? This is a vowel merger from the 1920s that Icelanders actually managed to not just stigmatise, but reverse (at least temporarily). There are cultural factors at play, but the small and homogeneous society also means that cultural conservatism has a much greater chance of success.
Answered 2016-10-13 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy. and

Steve Rapaport, Linguistics PhD candidate at Edinburgh. Has lived in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK.

What is Quora going to do with all these answers and questions?

People have been wondering for a long while: What could Quora’s long-term business plan be?

The watercooler assumption I’ve seen most recently is, either they are building a commercialisable knowledge bank (which I doubt, the data is way too messy), or the real value is in licensing the machine learning that they are training up through the questions and answers. See How does Quora use machine learning in 2015?

Yes, the bots. Yes, I know the bots are stupid. That doesn’t mean they are useless, or that they are stupider than the equivalent bots 20 years ago were.

What do you think of the new Australian $5 note (2016)?

Like Benjamin Marr said, it looks better in real life. The wattles are hideously pop-out yellow in the sample note, and were the reason why people poked abundant fun at it when it was announced.


New Australian $5 bill compared to ‘clown puke’

In real life, they’re mercifully more subdued. But the transparency is jarring.

What did the Greeks know about India before Alexander the Great started his campaigns?

Only what was in Ctesias’ work Indica (Ctesias).

The text only survives in quotations from later authors, and in a summary by Photius:

Photius’ excerpt of Ctesias’ Indica

It was second hand information: Ctesias worked in the Persian court, and relayed fanciful Persian notions of what India was like. Megasthenes, the first Greek author to have actually gone to India and recorded his impressions, was an envoy to India of Seleucus I Nicator, one of the successors of Alexander.

In US English why is Caucasian not considered a politically incorrect term, and consequently still regularly utilised in speech?

It’s interesting, isn’t it. We don’t hear Mongoloid or Negroid in the US. That isn’t because the US has suddenly turned away from Racial categories; they call them Asian and Black or African-American. And add to that Latino (very much an American classification), Native American, and Islander.

But Whites have retained Caucasian in the States.

Of course, one of the salient things about racial categorisation in the US, which is alien to the Old World, is that the most salient social tribal groupings within the US have not been based on ethnicity (whatever that may mean), as is familiar in the Old World. Whites as a tribal grouping in the States results from a melting pot of European cultures; English was the common language, but people didn’t rally around an English or even British culture—too many Irish and Germans from the very start. The same of course goes for Blacks in the US, with the added component of repression and cultural suppression.

So whiteness is a big deal in the States that it wasn’t elsewhere. Other whites, even slave-owning whites, would identify by ethnicity first and skin colour second; that wasn’t quite an option in the US. There was of course the new identity of American; the problem with that was, it didn’t adequately exclude blacks.

So. That’s why whites get referenced much more in the US than elsewhere. But why Caucasians and not Negroids?

My surmise (since I don’t get good guidance from Wikipedia this time) is that in the late 19th century, White Americans were aware that their allegiance to race rather than ethnicity was an odd thing by European standards, and were eager to find scientific backing for it. “White” and “Black”, and even more now “Yellow” and “Red”, sound like a bizarre focus of allegiance: you’re proclaiming allegiance to a pigment, not a tradition or a community. (White people in Europe sure didn’t feel they all belonged to the same thing.) Racial Anthropology supplied that for White Americans.

White Americans did not feel the need to speak of Negroids or Mongoloids outside the context of anthropology or eugenics. I think that’s because the scientific discourse was more about ennobling White Americans’ self-identity, than about systematising their notions of other races. Caucasians may have felt funny paying allegiance to a pigment; they didn’t feel embarrassment from reducing other races to a pigment.

Yellow and Red are long dead. The opposition of African-American to Black and Negro came from the astute observation that Blacks had an ethnic identity in the US, comparable to all the ethnic identities of “hyphenated Americans”, which could be opposed to a pigment. That move has its own problems: South African Americans and North African Americans are not who it is meant to designate; and “African” is an ethnic identity only in America, for the same reason “Caucasian” is an ethnic identity only in America. But it has been successful.

And that leaves Whites. Caucasian was appropriated from the framework of Racial Anthropology. But it was recontextualised, and it was never thought of as derogatory. You can argue that Negroid and Mongoloid are derogatory; in fact, it’s hard to use those terms now with a straight face. But Caucasian is no longer defined in the same paradigm as Negroid and Mongoloid: Americans have forgotten all about the original Racial Anthropology framework, and I doubt most users of “Caucasian” have even heard of “Mongoloid”. Caucasian is now defined in opposition to Asian and African-American. Its etymology is now just an historical accident.

So in short: the legacy you allude to for Caucasian, OP, has been forgotten about. The word is being used in a paradigm that owes a lot to that legacy—but that existed before it, and have survived after it.

How would a society work if everyone was deaf?

Imagine a world in which humans didn’t have Electroreception. None of that electric frisson you get when a predator lurks outside. No ability to use your body as a compass; why, the number of humans that would get lost on hikes! No ability to tell what’s in front of you just by its capacitance or resistance. And how the hell would humans ever develop an intuitive understanding of electrical engineering?

Oh, I’m sorry. I said humans. I was, of course, speaking of sharks and platypuses.

A society that never had sound would never know what it’s missing, just as we don’t know what we’re missing out on compared to sharks and platypuses. (Or for that matter dogs.) So, no music, and no loss: humans are still creative animals, they would divert their creativity to the senses they did have.

Don Grushkin has written a meaty and substantive answer; but I have to say, I disagree with some of it.

  • The social imperative that drives people to differentiate their oral languages is human (it’s about group dynamics), and would also apply to signed languages.
  • The notion that visual communication inherently minimises conflict is one I would need to be convinced of.
  • The former Yugoslavia blew up because people there understood what each other was saying all too well.
  • Hearing people have had plenty of contexts motivating collaboration and collectivism; in fact, traditional societies do so in general (you can’t be either a one-man farm, or a one-woman hunter-gatherer). Individualism is a much more recent artefact, and certainly more pronounced in the US than elsewhere.

So the speculation that Eyeth* would be more peaceful, collaborative, and understanding than Earth is one I’m not buying.

Written language would start like Chinese; I don’t know that there would be as much incentive for it to move away from pictograms as there was for abugidas and alphabets, given the complexity of sign language phonologies.

But I agree with Don that Eyeth society would look pretty similar to Earth. (In fact, I’m arguing it would look even more similar.) Society is how it is because of cognition, not modality of perception.

* That is, while the planet of the Hearing is EARth, the planet of the Deaf is EYEth.

How many of you are aware of atrocities done by the Assyrians, Armenians and Kurds in 1918 in Western Azerbaijan?

A2A from Pegah. Same answer as User. I know of the Armenian genocide, and the counterclaims of Armenians massacring Turks. Being Greek, I have been disinclined to research the counterclaims too seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics of Azeris killed were conscripted into the statistics of Turks killed. But no, I was not aware of it.

Not the answer you deserve. I’m sorry.

And thank you for putting it the way you did, Pegah. Who was killed must matter more than who did the killing.

EDIT: About not knowing.

Georges Drettas wrote a grammar of Pontic Greek in 1995. The texts he gathered for the grammar talked about how life was in the Black Sea, before the population exchanges. The Pontic Greeks overlapped geographically with the Armenians. The texts make no mention of the Armenian genocide.

Drettas’ conclusion: the Pontic Greeks did not mention the Armenian genocide, not because it didn’t happen, but because they didn’t care. That’s what relations between ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire looked like.